Tuesday, August 9, 2016

"ITL Inspiration"

Cerebral palsy hasn't prevented Jason Sudol from carving out spot on Rowley Rams
By Connor Whooley staff writer
On an afternoon in early July, both Rowley Rams coach Jeff Wood and local Rowley resident Jason Sudol headed down to Eiras Park for baseball, unaware that the other would be there.
Neither knew that their paths would cross, and that the subsequent meeting would produce an opportunity 18 years in the making.

Wood had gone down to drag the field before his team’s game that night, and noticed a kid throwing pitches into the ‘L’ screen in front of home plate.  “He throws a pitch into the screen and he runs down and picks it up, and he runs down to the mound to throw another pitch and he runs down,” said Wood. “I’m standing here and I’m looking and I’m going, ‘Who is this kid?’ I watched him for 10 minutes and he never stopped.”

Wood said he noticed that Sudol, who hasn’t played competitively since he was 12, was limping when he ran, but the coach then went about his regular duties of dragging the field.
“He came over to me and asked me if he needed to move and I said, ‘No, you’re fine. I want you to keep doing what you’re doing,’ said Wood.  And when his players arrived, and the Rams needed the field, the young man went out to the batting cage and started throwing in there.

“I stopped and I talked to him here at the cage,” said Wood. “I said, ‘You really love baseball, don’t you?’ And he goes, ‘I do, and I have cerebral palsy and I need to keep my legs strong and this is what I do to work out my legs.’”

Sudol has been coming to Eiras for the past two or three years to exercise his shoulders and legs, which are affected by his cerebral palsy. He’s 30 years old, and said he’ll go down to workout there or throw with his brother, but he’s never missed a season of pitching.
“I’d just been going over there in the batting cage to throw as much as I can,” said Sudol. “I’m trying to do the best I can to work myself up. I’ve always been pitching.”

Wood said he then gave Sudol four game balls so that he didn’t have to chase every pitch in the 90 degree heat.  “He was very gracious and confident and spoke to me and he’s an impressive kid,” said Wood. A student of the game  A week later, Sudol was there again, throwing in the cage. That’s when Rams players like Anthony Conte began to notice. The second time he saw Sudol working on his game, Wood went over again to talk to the big baseball fan.

Wood asked him when the last time he had played baseball was, and Sudol responded that he hadn’t played on a team since he was 12.  “I said, ‘No kidding. You’re a Rowley kid?’ And he said he was from Rowley, so I went to my truck and I got him a shirt and a hat and I said, ‘Get yourself a pair of baseball pants and you can be on the team if you want,’” said Wood.

The first game, Wood said Sudol was late, showing up in the first inning, but when he arrived on the bench, the team immediately jumped up to welcome him.  The Rams won that game 3-2 and after, Wood said he asked Sudol about the game and the player’s response was, “Great pitching, good defense.”  As a true baseball man himself, Wood found no flaw in the analysis.
“He knows what he’s looking at,” said Wood. “He’s awesome.”  And since then, Sudol has been to every game for the Rams, in uniform, sitting in the dugout with the rest of the players.

Both Conte and Wood commented on Sudol’s baseball knowledge, saying he can discuss what is going on in the game, as well as MLB players and statistics.
“He helps out on the bench as much as he can,” said Conte. “He does everything he’s asked to do. He knows the game better than most. It’s been great having him. He’s a great baseball mind to have around here. He’s a good teammate. Picks everybody up.”

After games, the Rams will stick around the field and chat and Wood said Sudol sticks around to talk baseball with the team.  “It’s awesome,” said Sudol. “The male camaraderie. Everyone’s got good vibes. Everyone’s cheering each other on.” His teammates have welcomed him and Wood said Sudol will stretch and throw with the rest of the guys before the game, becoming part of the fabric of the team.

“It’s easy to think about what we’ve done for him to pull him onto our team, but the real story is what he’s done for us to have him here,” said Wood. “Just to see his commitment to it, and see him here all the time, lineup, shake hands with the other team. He’s a very important part of the team right now.”
Getting in on the action Until recently, Sudol said his main duty was cheering for his teammates and putting out good vibes, but that he expected to get some game action soon.

That action came earlier this week, as Sudol got the ball to start the game for the Rams against Ipswich.  “We didn’t tell him until he got to the park,” said Wood a few days after the game. “He was a little bit surprised. I would say nervous.”  Sudol had always been throwing from in front of the mound, but Wood said it wasn’t a deterrent.  “I asked him if he was OK to go from the rubber and he said, ‘Yup, I can go from the rubber,’ said the coach.

With some high gas, Sudol then struck out the batter, and when Wood came to take him out of the game after, he was sent off by all eight position players. “Not just the infielders but the outfielders as well and the whole bench was lined up to meet him when he came off,” said Wood. “He talked about the at-bat all night long, just how he couldn’t believe he got the guy out. It was cool to see.”
A week before the outing, Sudol had said his best pitch was his two-seam fastball and that he also had a cutter and a fastball in his arsenal while also developing a change-up.

He watches the Red Sox every day, but said his favorite pitcher is Dodgers star Clayton Kershaw, who is, in Sudol’s words, “filthy nasty.”  In his outing, Sudol was “filthy nasty” as well.
“You’ve got a 30-year-old guy who hasn’t been able to get onto a baseball field in uniform for 18 years and he loves the game and that was great,” said Wood. “It’s something that I’ll remember for as long as I live.”

The coach said his team started 3-5, before going 14-1-1 to finish 17-6-1 in second place in the ITL, but none of that compares to what Sudol did.  He added that Sudol is welcome on the team for as long as he pleases and that next season, he’ll continue to try to find opportunities for the pitcher.
“He’s a baseball guy and we’re going to help him out,” said Wood.  The Rams finished the regular season earning the No. 2 seed in the playoffs where they’ll face Rockport on Monday at Eiras Field, before heading to Evans Field for the second game of the best-of-three series. And, like he has been for the majority of the season, Sudol will be there, cheering on his teammates.

 “I love baseball,” said Sudol. “I’ll watch it. I’ll play it. I’ll cheer people on. It’s something to do. It’s really fun. I love the game.”